Last month I had a long breakfast with Dr. Alberto Zamacona at Marco Polo Restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Alberto and his wife Laura head up Project Compassion Oaxaca, an organization that shares the Gospel of Christ through medical outreach clinics to indigenous people groups in Oaxaca.
I listened as Dr. Alberto talked about his ministry and some of the lives that have been changed as a result of it.
At one point I shared with him about our ministry using photographers to give families a portrait and the church a way to connect to people they are not already serving.
That began a time where we talked about ways to really help people in some of the areas where we both work.
Let me first say that we are both engaged in ministry to some of the poorest people in Mexico. Oaxaca is the second poorest state in the country and home to majority of the 50 poorest cities in the nation.
Many people in the state lack access to basic necessities like running water and electricity. Concrete floors in many of the homes outside of the cities are a luxury and few people in the rural areas have a regular job that can provide enough food to feed a family.
Both Alberto and I have seen this first hand, and it is an important part of understanding why we believe in a holistic approach to ministry. Put simply, spiritual health is only part of the equation when you are serving in these areas.
Effective ministry in distressed areas must focus not only on the spiritual health of people, but their physical and economic health as well.
This is why my ministry, Adventures in Life, has been working to increase crop yields, provide basic economic help, and facilitate medical clinics in Oaxaca, alongside kid’s outreach clubs, camps, and pastoral training.
As I listened to Alberto, I was getting excited, because in a sense, he was preaching to the choir. Yet he was sharing from a much deeper understanding of the struggles of rural life in Oaxaca than I had.
He asked me if I had connections to some bicycle mechanics, and then went on to explain that many people in the outlying villages did not have cars so they got around on bikes. And like cars, those bikes would break down.
What if, he asked, we brought down a few bike mechanics, offered to fix bikes in the outlying villages, and then taught the skill to the people there? The result would be a blessing to the community and some folks, as newly minted businessmen, would be better able to feed their families.
What about cakes? Did I know a cake baker? Because every village has celebrations, but few have someone who can bake quality cakes. If we can teach that skill to a few women, not only will the village have cakes for birthday parties, weddings and quinceañeras, but again, some people will be able to make a living that puts food on the table.
And then he started talking about mangos. Mangos, that wonderful tropical fruit that during the summer months is all over Mexico, but in quantities too large to consume in the few months they are available. The result is that thousands of mangos rot on the streets and in the markets each year.
Maybe he suggested, we could use our connections to develop a women’s co-op to can and preserve mangos, or even mango salsa, that could then be marketed to the tourists that visit Oaxaca each year. Imagine of we could empower a large group of women in something like this. We could see real life change in ways that would make a real difference today in the health and well being of potentially hundreds of men, women, and children in Mexico.
Now imagine if all of this came through the Christian witness of the church.
When asked why we were doing this, we would respond that we were trying to radically model Christlike servanthood in a broken and hurting world. And then as the relationship, that started with a very practical living out of the Gospel grew, we might get that opportunity to share about spiritual healing, Jesus, and eternity.
You think that would make a difference for Christ in Mexico? What if all of our missions around the globe took this approach?
Mangos, Cakes & Bikes, Oh My!
Think about it.